Athletes on the Lincoln County Roadrunners Special Olympics team dueled members of the Sheriff’s Office, Fire District, Emergency Dispatch and some Missouri State Troopers in a softball game for the team’s annual community game.
About 27 athletes played on the Roadrunners side, said team coach Suzanne Clarke, adding that the evening “ended up being a lot of fun.”
“Everybody was laughing, having a really good time, everybody got a great hit,” Clarke said. “Some of them [Roadrunners], it’s the only game they get to play all year long, because they just get together and practice and learn the skills over and over, so they got to actually play a game and some of them just completely light up at getting to do that.”
Clarke said her own child plays on Special Olympics teams, and seeing any kid that doesn’t typically have the chance to play in local sports get out on the field and compete is a real wonder.
“For some of them it’s the whole boost that they need to turn their day around, turn their week around,” Clarke said.
Lots of the athletes have difficulty interacting with strangers, but during the community game, Clarke said they were laughing it up with the first responders and even ribbing Sheriff John Cottle a bit.
“To see them laughing and joking, and making fun of John Cottle – he missed the ball on accident – to give him the business like that, it was so funny,” Clarke said.
Deputy Sierra Haymes said the Sheriff’s Office participates in the Roadrunners’ game every year, and has a hand in Special Olympics events year-round. At the end of September, Haymes herself will be taking part in Special Olympics Missouri’s Over the Edge event, where participants rappel down a 30-story building in St. Louis to raise money for the organization.
“We have a pretty good relationship with Special Olympics in the region, but also with the Roadrunners in Lincoln County,” Haymes said.
When the Sheriff’s Office first started participating in events with the Roadrunners years ago, Haymes said the athletes may have been a little hesitant to engage with them, but the continual efforts to work with the team have brought the two groups close together.
“They know most of us, they love most of us,” Haymes said.
“It’s a really good relationship, and I think that it just shows them that we’re normal human beings,” she added.
The night had some exciting happenings too – during the first inning, the firefighters were getting ready to go to bat when a call blared over their radios, and they had to take off. Clarke and the other coaches were looking at shifting some players around to balance the teams, when “right about the time we were going to make that switch, here they [the firefighters] come back – false alarm.”
“Everybody was cheering for them, so that was pretty cool,” Clarke said.
“We’re so grateful that they came out to play with us,” she added.
In addition to the help from the first responders, the event was made possible by the Troy Knights of Columbus, who’d let the RoadRunners use their baseball fields all season long. The night of the community game, the Knights of Columbus cooked up a feast for the athletes as well.
“Just seeing other people volunteering and reaching out to us, it’s a great thing,” Clarke said.
While the community game more or less puts a pin in the softball season, the conclusion of that sport doesn’t wrap up Special Olympic activities for the year by a long shot.
Basketball season starts up in October, with an open house Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Boone Elementary in Troy. Any athlete from age 8 upwards is welcome.
“We’ve got older, we’ve got people in their 60s and 70s, and everything in between,” Clarke said.
Basketball practices start Oct. 22.
Bowling will also begin soon, and Clarke said that sport is a blast to be a part of.
“It is so fun to watch,” Clarke said. “And it goes from [athletes] that have to push the ball down the ramp to ones that actually go and throw the ball and they’re a whole lot better than I am at it.”
Bowling started Sept. 9, and runs through the end of March; the team plays down at O’Fallon Bowl. Track starts in April 2020, and golf starts soon after in May. Through September, the RoadRunners are also the Charity of the Month at Honey Badger Grill, with a portion of the restaurant’s monthly proceeds benefitting the team.
“We wouldn’t be who we were without any of the community,” Clarke said. “We wouldn’t be, because we run completely off donations and fundraisers…we’re very, very blessed with Troy.”
Haymes said it’s always rewarding to spend time with the athletes “and know that you’re making their day.”
“But I think what hits home the most is when they remember you,” Haymes said. “So when they remember your name or they remember, ‘hey, you said you were doing this last week, how did it go?’”
“It means a lot when you have a real, genuine relationship with them,” she added.